Why We Need to "Reclaim the Game"


A hockey stick created by a Mi’kmaq carver in the 1850’s fetched $2.2 million in 2006 at an auction. It was a Starr Manufacturing Company stick. The company employed many Mi’kmaq wood carvers until machinery took over and their jobs became obsolete. Sticks were carved out of hard wood, not heat-pressed like they are today. They were an international success and the origins of the hockey stick were forgotten until the auction that changed the perception that hockey is a recent invention. The oldest hockey stick (over 300 years old) sits in the Canadian Museum of History. It is literally carved out of the roots of Canada’s past.


Hockey is a graceful game. The physical skills needed to skate, handle a stick, pass the puck, and send a piece of “indian rubber” flying at 170km/hr…are all admirable goals and duly respected. The game should build character in young people.


The game, many times, has turned into an adversarial engagement.  The fights, head trauma and bullying both on the ice and in the stands are becoming normal. It doesn’t have to be that way. As Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island, how can we bring back the good values and instill that old respect in our children and youth?

Simple. By reclaiming the game. Starting, of course, with history.

Back when the Mi’kmaq were playing Oochamkunutk, and the Mohawk were playing Lacrosse (now Canada’s two official sports,) they had particular purposes. They weren’t meant to beat your opponent but to shore up alliances, prepare young people for hunting, build strategizing skills.  Mi’kmaq storytellers relay to us the purpose of the game. Our Indigenous languages and stories hold the oral DNA of hockey history and reveal to us the proof of the existence of the game long before European Contact — which solidifies the logic that sports coupled with arts/culture and Indigenous Culture, is exciting and a necessity.

Judith Skating
Judith Beaver of Webequie plans to walk 1,000 kms to Ottawa.

Last spring, I wrote about the resilience of two Canadian Indigenous women, DAREarts Cultural Award winner Waneek Horn-Miller and Leadership Award recipient Judith Beaver. They both talked about how finding their passion saved them from despair due to trauma.  Waneek ran across Canada twice.  Judith, 16, plans to walk from Pickle Lake to Ottawa this summer. Both turned to arts and sports to build confidence in themselves and others. Both have dreams of better times for future generations.

With their inspiration plus that of the Webequie school and community plus DAREarts founder Marilyn Field powering our program, DAREarts is sending dancer/DAREarts Lead teacher Laura MacKinnon, Juno nominee and “Say My Name Kindness Campaign” Glenn Marais and me (Mi’kmaq multi-disciplined Dora nominated) to Webequie to collaborate with students, teachers and elders on a project that will “reclaim the game” by mixing hockey with photography/digital imaging and songwriting, visual art and dance.

With generous help from TD’s Musicounts, we will have guitars, recording equipment and lessons. Long & McQuade has once again donated a guitar to DAREarts for our fly-in programs. The NHL donated hockey jerseys. The Painted Turtle in Thunder Bay is helping us with art supplies and Stardust Events helped us source blank goalie masks for our visual art component.

At the end of an intense week, the 20 DAREarts Webequie youths with elders will perform their piece for the community and a video will be shared on social media to spread the message of anti-bullying and good sportsmanship.

None of this would be possible without DAREarts’ lead supporters Northbridge Insurance, Guy Carpenter, Scotiabank, TD, The Ontario Arts Council, the Judith Teller Foundation and Ann Livingston.  As well, DAREarts First Roots supporters of our northern program are Noront Resources and Sarah Haney.

We will have stories, images, music and inspiration from these kids and their community to share at our 2nd DAREarts First Roots Feast in Newmarket on February 25th which will fuel our trips for next year. Join us!

First Roots Feast Header

Related Links:

Article re: First Nations and Hockey

Origins of Hockey

The Girl and the Raven – a story about Hockey written and filmed by DAREarts Marten Falls Grade 7 students

DAREarts First Roots Feast 

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